Some Thoughts on Shanta's Anniversary Blog
I have extracted what I find to be the key points in Shanta’s blog post “It’s not the How; It’s the Why” and have commented on them:
1. “Bad policies or institutions exist and persist because politically powerful people benefit from them.”
Bad policies or institutions are bad for those who are excluded from their benefits in the short-run, but they also harm the supposed beneficiaries in the long run. Further careful analysis can corroborate this, and show the long-term harm caused by bad policies to virtually everyone in a particular country.
Middle East and North Africa
Some Thoughts on Shanta's Anniversary Blog
Hardly a week goes by without my hearing the statement, “It’s not the What; it’s the How.” On the reform of energy subsidies in the Middle East and North Africa, for instance, the discussion is focused not on whether subsidies should be reformed (everyone agrees they should be), but on how the reform should be carried out. Similar points are made about business regulations, education, agriculture, or health. I confess to having written similar things myself. And there is no shortage of such proposals on this blog.
Reforms are needed because there is a policy or institutional arrangement in place that has become counterproductive. But before suggesting how to reform it, we should ask why that policy exists at all, why it has persisted for so long, and why it hasn’t been reformed until now. For these policies didn’t come about by accident. Nor have they remained because somebody forgot to change them. And they are unlikely to be reformed just because a policymaker happens to read a book, article or blog post entitled “How to reform…”
انقضى أسبوع تقريبا دون أن أسمع عبارة "لا يتعلق الأمر بالكيفية بل بالسبب." ففي مجال إصلاح دعم الطاقة في الشرق الأوسط وشمال أفريقيا، على سبيل المثال، لا يتركز النقاش على ما إذا كان ينبغي إصلاح الدعم (يتفق الجميع على ضرورة ذلك) بل على كيفية إجراء الإصلاح. وتثار نقاط مماثلة بشأن تنظيم ممارسة الأعمال أو التعليم أو الزراعة أو الصحة. واعترف بأني أنا نفسي كتبت أمورا مشابهة. ولا يوجد نقص في مثل هذه المقترحات على هذه المدونة.
فالإصلاحات مطلوبة لأنه توجد سياسات أو ترتيبات مؤسسية قائمة باتت معوقة. لكن قبل أن نقترح كيفية إصلاحها ينبغي أن نسأل لماذا وُجدت هذه السياسة من الأصل، ولماذا استمرت فترة طويلة، ولماذا لم يتم إصلاحها حتى اليوم. فهذه السياسات لم تأت مصادفة. ولم تستمر لأن شخصا ما نسي تغييرها. ولن يتم إصلاحها على الأرجح لمجرد أن أحد صانعي السياسات قرأ كتابا أو مقالا أو مدونة بعنوان "كيف تصلح..."
Economic development theorists and practitioners are increasingly using the term “middle-income trap” to describe the situation where developing economies’ convergence to the development frontier comes to a halt once their income per capita reaches a middle-income level. The term is ambiguous: is it a halt in convergence or slowdown in growth, and what exactly is the definition of middle-income? Nevertheless, the concept has been successfully used to create a scare that developing countries are more likely to run out of breath or even give up the race in the middle of the track than to continue catching up with the leading economies. Eichengreen et al. and several IMF economists are among those who provide empirical evidence that the “middle-income trap” is real and that developing countries do get stuck at some low-level equilibrium.
We are living in a paradoxical time of population growth. In the media, there have been alarming reports asking how the world will be able to deal with a much larger population in years to come. The challenges are real, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, whose population is expected to double by 2050 and possibly quadruple by 2100. At the same time, we have been experiencing the most rapid decline in global population growth ever.
But how can we reconcile those two facts: a rapid expansion of total population numbers with a fast slowdown of population growth? Here is an analogy from the world of cars: imagine you are driving on a German motorway, where speed limits are notoriously non-existent. You are cruising at 160km/h (100m/h) but soon you cross the border into France, where 130 km/h is the limit. You are still driving very fast, though substantially slower than before. Now you switch to a regional road, driving at 80km/h, and now you slow down further to 50 km/h as you enter into a town. Meanwhile, someone else is still driving at 160 km/h on that Autobahn.
One of the major issues in the Open Working Group’s outcome report on the shape of the post-2015 agenda is the availability and access to financing to allow the goals to be met. There is a great temptation to simply try and calculate the financing needs for each goal and add them up to get the total financing need. Because this approach seems simple, it is appealing to many. The problem is that it is conceptually wrong.
At the secondary level, the performance of students from the Middle East and North Africa in international tests such as TIMS is significantly below the developing country average.
At the tertiary level, universities are chronically underfunded and not training students for jobs that the market is demanding - reminiscent of the Woody Allen line, "The food in this restaurant is terrible and the portions are too small."
Football, the beautiful game, galvanizes people from young to old and North to South in a way that no other sport or entertainment can match. Last Sunday’s final was the most watched event in human history with an estimated 1 billion viewers (many of which, in South and East Asia, tuned in well into the night). What we experienced over the past four weeks has been described by some as the closest thing to a world religion: everybody watches it and worships it; everyone has an opinion and many believe that winning the World Cup is one of the greatest achievements a country can aspire to. No wonder that even the Popes seem to care. John-Paul II once pointedly said that “amongst all unimportant subjects, football is by far the most important.”
Nick Manning’s two recent blogs (here and here) raise an important issue. On the one hand, people interested in development have big ambitions. We want not just more, but dramatically more people to be educated, healthy and prosperous, to name only three good things. If we are lucky enough to have some influence over governments and development agencies, we might be tempted to work from the top down to get what we want, turning those ambitions into public policies and programs, and rolling them out by the yard like so much cheap office carpet.
But on the other hand, the same human values that make us want those things make many of us sympathize with the bottom-up tradition that takes individual humans or small communities as its starting point. We know how a state planning juggernaut led to the terrible famines in the Soviet Union in the 30s and China in the late 50s. We know the horrors that followed Year Zero in Cambodia. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful and James Scott’s Seeing Like A State are touchstone texts. Likewise, some of us have an instinctive preference for ‘searchers’ over ‘planners’, ‘positive deviance’ and ‘problem-driven iterative adaptation’.
In last week’s post, I asked whether Governance and Public Sector Management (GPSM) projects are having much large scale impact. It is tempting to reduce this to the question of why don’t development projects which focus on this work more often (although their track record is perhaps not as limited as some reviews of donor assistance might suggest). From this starting point, recent thinking suggests that donor rigidity and project designs which fix the visible form without improving the underlying public management function are the problem.
The remedy, as set out most prominently in “Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation” and in the World Bank’s own Public Sector Management Approach, suggests that we should focus on the de facto rather than the de jure and adapt the nature of our support as project implementation unrolls. Problem-driven iterative adaptation (PDIA) approaches are referred to in recent reforms of Ministries of Finance in the Caribbean and reform approaches in Mozambique and in Burundi. Bank interventions in Sierra Leone and in Punjab have been cited as examples of this approach in practice.